Conflict resolution is a natural part of running a business; any business. Conflicts happen with customers, colleagues, and employees. In your personal life, you see conflict popping up at home with your spouse or your kids. Family dynamics can be a big source of conflict. Simply said, conflict is eveywhere.
As a coach, I get asked about dealing with conflict on a regular basis. My first answer is an old saying I was taught many years ago.
“The truth is in the middle.”
Seldom are you perfectly right or wrong. It is not very often that you are completely spot on with a solution. Instead there are always other considerations to weigh.
When two opposing ideas collide, the moment can be emotionally charged. One side can feel indignant if the other has dared to oppose the idea. The situation becomes a fight to the death.
It simply doesn’t have to be that way.
Emotionally mature leaders learn to look at conflict more objectively. Rather than jump immediately to one side or the other, the smart leader hears the arguments, then weighs the merits of each before making a decision.
Really great leaders seek the truth in the middle first. But if a settlement is still not there, you can move to this next idea.
The Marriage Bed
No relationship in life can be more complex than the marriage of a couple. Two otherwise independent souls agree to join together to become one couple.
On one hand it’s the definition of compromise. I give something up and you give something up so we can be together. Said outloud it sounds very unworkable.
However, to better understand the ways to solve conflict at work, I am going to borrow a guide from the Gottman Institute, an organization dedicated to helping marriages and families.
Drs. John and Julie Gottman present this exercise will help partners to make headway into the perpetually gridlocked problems you face in your relationship. It requires compromise.
Therefore the real question is about how can we reach a compromise?
The Art of Compromise
Step 1: Consider an area of conflict where you and your partner are stuck in perpetual gridlock. Draw two ovals, one within the other. The one on the inside is your Inflexible Area and the one on the outside is your Flexible Area.
Step 2: Think of the inside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values you absolutely cannot compromise on, and the outside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values that you feel more flexible with in this area. Make two lists.
Step 3: Discuss the following questions with your partner that feels most comfortable and natural for the two of you:
- Can you help me to understand why your “inflexible” needs or values are so important to you?
- What are your guiding feelings here?
- What feelings and goals do we have in common? How might these goals be accomplished?
- Help me to understand your flexible areas. Let’s see which ones we have in common.
- How can I help you to meet your core needs?
- What temporary compromise can we reach on this problem?
Applying these principles to a business situation may take some other thinking.
From a career standpoint, compromise is something that one must become comfortable with, particularly in leadership roles. Whether it’s negotiating a new contract with a vendor, discussing a potential new business venture, resolving a complaint or trying to reach an important business decision, mastering the art of compromise is key.
Here’s how to do so effectively without giving up too much or putting yourself in a bad position.
First understand what is at stake. Prioritize the key issues in your own mind. Evaluate the real significance of the issue first.
Next, determine the potential outcomes. What will ultimately happen if you give in or stand your ground? How much of an impact would compromising have on your business? In many cases, you’ll likely find that giving in won’t have many repercussions at all.
Draw a mental line in the sand. Know your limits, focus on what is key to your longer term goals and vision.
Next, Genuinely listen. Stephen R. Covey encouraged seeking the win-win position. You have to listen carefully to find the opportunities for the win for each party.
Then, give something worthwhile. Recognize that the other party is also going to need to compromise to some degree. To reach that middle ground, you’ll need to be willing to give your opponent something worthwhile.
Finally, always be professional. When it comes to compromise, there’s always going to be those situations in which the results aren’t as favorable as you’d have liked. Regardless of outcome, it’s imperative that you maintain the utmost professionalism at all times.
Becoming a leader who is effective at managing conflict and achieving compromise is easier than you think. However, it takes intentional effort, focused on facts not emotions. Other articles in my blog address these topics too.
Be a leader who is dedicated to delivering value. Value your people. Provide them with value day by day. Enrich and influence the lives of those around you. Lead your people to overcome the conflicts. That will become your legacy as a leader.